living underground in the real world

Four paragraphs on Angie Zapata, though she deserved so much more.

I wrote a whole post on Angie Zapata, then somehow it got deleted. Here is the quickie condensed version.

I’ve read a lot of people saying “justice has been served” because her killer was sentenced to life in prison without parole and his crime was classified as a hate crime (which of course it was). I can see how it is tempting to feel like this is a victory for those of us who have complex ideas about gender and identity, and in a certain sense it is—of course. It’s an important step that, as the New York Times put it: “it is believed to be among the first [killings] in which a hate crimes law was applied in a murder trial where the victim was transgender.”

But here’s my thing: I just can’t have that much faith in the prison industrial complex. What does this man spending life in prison do to prevent others from killing sex partners when they are denied the all-important pussy?

We know that knowledge of punishment does pretty much nothing to prevent crimes. It seems that maybe instead of rejoicing when people who commit crimes are given appropriate punishments, we should work harder to create a society in which dudes don’t go berserk when they take a woman home and realize they can’t fuck her in the way in which they understand that word. Of course, there are great groups doing just that, and it’s not my intent to rain on the parade of some sort of justice getting served.

I don’t know. I know it’s partly because of Susan, because it’s so horrible for me to think that six years after her death women are still being killed by their lovers. Oh, life just breaks my heart so hard sometimes. That’s all. Just sadness.

8 Responses to “Four paragraphs on Angie Zapata, though she deserved so much more.”

  1. Martin McPhillips

    “We know that knowledge of punishment does pretty much nothing to prevent crimes.”

    We do?

    We know that about 2-3% of the population are sociopaths, i.e., have minimally formed conscience and/or no regard for social norms, and that they commit a way disproportionate number of crimes. In fact, the higher-functioning sociopaths usually commit well upwards of, say (I forget the exact figure), a hundred crimes before they are caught.

    Generally, these people are the people who can only be deterred from crime by actually catching them and putting them in prison. The odd thing is that as they get older the sociopathy seems to wear out and they stop repeating their offenses and some can be safely released (though certainly not all).

    I would say that for much of the rest of the population, the non-sociopaths, that the knowledge of punishment is a substantial deterrent.

    But to the issue of the prisons themselves, they are I think America’s greatest scandal. I just had that discussion with a friend the other day. I wouldn’t even rank the public schools that high (but give them a few more years).

    One of the reasons I always defend former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik (who later got caught in some questionable practices) is that prior to becoming police commissioner, Giuliani had made him corrections commissioner. Kerik went into what was regarded as an impossible situation, the Riker’s Island prison complex, which was a dangerous and inhuman disgrace and an eternal mess, and straightened the place out. No one believed it could be done, and no one besides Giuliani and the people who cared about the prisoners appreciated it. It was a great and merciful act on Kerik’s part.

    Reply
  2. lagusta

    “’We know that knowledge of punishment does pretty much nothing to prevent crimes.’”

    We do?”

    Yep. I’ll drop some knowledge on you when I have more time, but in the meantime:

    “I would say that for much of the rest of the population, the non-sociopaths, that the knowledge of punishment is a substantial deterrent.”

    Do you have any facts to back up what you “would say”? If so I’d like to hear them. ‘Cause I’ve never heard anything of the kind, and especially not in a hate crime case.

    Kerik got caught in “some questionable practices”?? Hoo boy, that made my day. Some?

    Here’s what The New Yorker had to say about him:
    “The largest difficulty in considering the Kerik downfall is knowing in which niche of public disgrace to categorize him. As Henry Stern, the former Parks Commissioner, noted in his regular e-mail newsletter to friends and supporters the other day, “Officials have gotten into trouble for sexual misconduct, abusing their authority, personal bankruptcy, failure to file documents, waste of public funds, receiving substantial unrecorded gifts, and association with organized crime figures. It is rare for anyone to be under fire on all seven of the above issues.””

    Anyway, it’s nice that he did some good at Riker’s Island, but the entire prison system has to be reformed and/or abolished. It just doesn’t work. As you say, it’s a scandal.

    Also, I have approximately 10,000 comments I’d like to post to your blog, but you apparently don’t believe in discussions. Too bad.

    Reply
  3. Martin McPhillips

    I don’t have anything directly on point (I bet there’s plenty, but I’ll be lazy) to the question “do non-sociopaths think first and stop themselves before committing a crime because they might be punished?”

    But I can offer first a conceptual position and then a slightly off-point finding.

    First, conceptually, does the fear of getting run over by a car cause most people to check before crossing the street? I think the answer is yes. I know as a driver that there are several exceptions to this rule in New Paltz, but I think that generally the rule holds.

    Why would a person who feared consequences, which is thankfully true of most people, not be deterred by the fear of punishment?

    Second, in his book, More Guns, Less Crime, John Lott (I’m working from memory here) points out that crime rates drop in counties and I believe states with concealed carry and other laws that make it easy for citizens to have handguns. The conclusion to be drawn from that is that criminals do fear reprisals.

    Which brings us back to sociopaths: they don’t care about laws, but they are not fond of getting caught, and the smarter ones become quite adept at getting away with many crimes before getting caught. Time and chance and carelessness on their part raise the probability that they will get nabbed, but they certainly are not eager to get caught.

    I have to think that normal people (more or less) who are not congenitally predisposed to the criminal life, would be more, not less, deterred by the threat of punishment than sociopaths.

    The prison system cannot be abolished, but it can be reformed. On the bell curve of human nature, there are always going to be some people who need to be incarcerated. When someone hasn’t formed a conscience, for whatever reason, they will act on their desires and impulses, whether they be murderers, robbers, vandals, etc. Some of that behavior is, I believe, hard-wired. (By which I’m not saying that I am a genetic determinist, but if you’ve ever spent time with sociopaths, and I have run into more than a few, you no doubt understand that the wiring is very deeply imbedded.)

    The nuns (can I bring them up?) used to say “there is no such thing as a bad boy.” Well, they were wrong, there are plenty of bad boys, and a whole lot of bad girls, too. And they are least hesitant to act among those who think otherwise.

    About comments at my blog: I had them open at first, but got tired of deleting dozens of ads for viagra, penis englargement, porn, and what have you. Besides which, I wasn’t getting real comments, at least none that rose above the dopey level. I’m sorry if you really did want to comment, but I have more or less settled into the “Beck policy” of “I will not have comments at my blog.” Perhaps I’ll open it up at some point, just for you Lagusta. But not today. Remind me about that when enough time has elapsed for me to give it thought.

    I did get one very vociferous series of emails from a local political figure of sorts, but I thought that I did him a favor by not posting them and responding to them online. He was challenging me (after I had made comments about things he was saying in public forums) on matters having to do with solar and alternative energy, about which I can, regretably, still speak ex cathedra.

    And Kerik, despite his faults, did more than some good at Riker’s. He transformed it from a living hell to something that a sane civilized person could look at and not be revolted by it.

    Kerik became a whipping boy, no doubt through great fault of his own, in locales like the New Yorker, I think, as a way of getting at Giuliani by questioning his judgment for working with Kerik. That doesn’t excuse Kerik’s unethical or criminal behavior, but he was quite a good police commissioner, as well as corrections commissioner. Alas, he took privileges, and was ruined. My point is that he was expert at the jobs he was given, and showed great mercy to the afflicted in the prison system by treating them as human beings.

    Reply
  4. danielle

    “It seems that maybe instead of rejoicing when people who commit crimes are given appropriate punishments, we should work harder to create a society in which dudes don’t go berserk when they take a woman home and realize they can’t fuck her in the way in which they understand that word. ”

    so perfectly sums up – I can’t articulate – but I just feel that on so many level, deep in my bones.

    Reply
  5. orlande

    disappointingly but not surprisingly, i was one of only three folks to comment on the feministing post about the andrade verdict. thankfully jessica valenti said something about “true justice” not being done, and i replied somewhat similarly to the way you reacted above…

    “i especially appreciate that you noted that ‘true justice’ cannot be done because angie can’t be brought back and the violence can’t be taken away.

    the case has been very intense for the tblg community here in CO. lots of folks keep saying, “yay! justice!” (understandably thankful that a. it’s over with a decent result, b. her murderer was punished to the fullest extent, and c. we had a landmark case). we seem to forget that “justice” will only be truly felt when we can be ourselves without fear of negative consequences of any sort. this was a step in the right direction under EXTREMELY unfortunate circumstances. i’m so proud of the jury!”

    i feel scared to criticize the prison system even though i am familiar with many, many statistics, studies, etc about the ways in which it is a mere illusion of “law enforcement” and citizen control. thanks for writing what you did above, lagusta, and for so often articulating what i believe but am not yet mature enough in my feminism/ sociological critiques to state.

    Reply
  6. abovegroundpool

    There are reasons that evil Giuliani and evil George W. loved Kerik. His “cleanup” of the prison system meant making it more efficient, more of a money maker, less problems for those in charge, much like Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign in NYC. It wasn’t good for everyone. Rikers was getting primed to hold more prisoners, and forcing prisoners to be “enforcers,” unpaid guards.

    Kerik’s history in NY, in NJ, in special ops and in Iraq, with Homeland Security and organized crime and taser guns all make it clear he likes money, he doesn’t mind dirty methods of getting it, and he thinks anyone who gets in his way should be killed, locked up, etc. He’s an all around bad man, and a power hungry one.

    Kerik and Giuliani did a whole lot of damage to queer life in NYC, to personal freedom of any kind. I was locked up under Kerik’s reign, arrested for speaking out against police dept. abuses, then thrown out of custody just before court opened, because they “couldn’t find” my arresting officer. I was one of dozens that particular day, and it happened regularly. There’s no record of our having ever been there.

    MUCH more importantly, little kids are killing themselves because of bullying because someone might think they’re gay, queers and trannies like Zapata are being brutally murdered, and the approach of people like Kerik is to lock people up forever, to kill them to shut them up, to bully them into silence. He’s the kind of bully who is the problem.

    CLEARLY it doesn’t work. As prisons grow, our society gets more and more violent. There’s never any promotion of education, or discussion. Prisons create violent people. Kids are sent away on minor drug charges and come out of prison years later not trusting anyone, and with no skills or resources. It sucks.

    It sucks that queers still live every day in danger. It sucks that dangerous bullies like Kerik live only to make the world more dangerous for people trying to live in it.

    Thanks, Lagusta, for honoring Angie Zapata, and acknowledging that prison isn’t what’s going to help.

    Reply

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